Public transit operates mainly for local commuting, shopping and school trips. But some of those ordinary transit trips can be spectacular for visitors, too. Transit prices are a lot less than rates for commercial sightseeing, and you aren't forced to stop at schlocky souvenir shops. You can find interesting transit rides in many places, but I have a favorites list of public trips in the U.S. that should be on your "must" list whenever you visit the region.
Unless noted, all routes operate several trips daily, some with reduced weekend service. I show one-way single fares except where round trips are much less than two one-way trips; otherwise, round trips cost double the one-way rate. Some nominally one-way fares cover a set time period of an hour or more of travel allowing round-trip riding on short trips. Many systems issue one- and multiple-day passes that typically represent good value for anyone riding more than one round trip. Many systems base fare collection on machine-readable stored-value cards of some sort and charge a higher fare for cash. Unless noted, the minimum age for senior fares is 65.
New York's Staten Island Ferry is the classic way to view the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the lower Manhattan skyline. The Ferry operates 24/7/365, from the Battery, every 15 minutes during commute rush hours; every 30 minutes off-peak and on weekends. Best of all, it's free!
Seattle's Bremerton Ferry offers vistas of the city's impressive skyline and wooded hills as it crosses the Puget Sound between the city center and suburban Bremerton. It's the most easily accessible of the area's many ferry lines for typical Seattle visitors. Round-trip fares are $8.35 adults, $4.15 youth and senior.
Boston and San Francisco also operate some commuter ferry lines in their extended harbor areas.
Monterey Transit's Big Sur Bus route 22 remains the nation's most scenic public bus trip, along the fames highway 1, and the section through to Nepenthe has now been re-opened following the route 1 closure due to landslides. Round trips operate three times daily through Labor Day, than twice daily on weekends only. The one-way fare is $3.50; $1.75 for youth and seniors.
Pittsburgh's two historic "inclines," dating from the 1879s, soldier on to carry passengers more than 400 feet up from the riverside to the bluff overlooking the city center and "Golden Triangle." Both inclines are integrated into Pittsburgh's public transit system, with frequent daily operation. One-ride fares from downtown are $2.50 each way, $3.50 with a transfer to/from bus or light rail; children and disabled pay 50 cents, and seniors 65 ride all local transit in Pennsylvania free.
Commuter Rail Trips
San Diego County's "Coaster" trains hug much of the spectacular Pacific coastline between San Diego and Oceanside. Trips operate daily with reduced weekend schedules. One-way zone fares for the full route are $5.50 for adults, $2.75 for Seniors 60 or over.
Also, for other coastal scenery options, consider Los Angeles Metra's Orange County and Inland Empire routes between San Juan Capistrano and Oceanside and Seattle's Sounder line between Seattle and Everett, weekdays only. And New Mexico's Rail Runner Express from Albuquerque to Santa Fe passes through some nice desert country.
Although several areas run short vintage streetcar routes, and many operate modern light rail lines, only two U.S. cities fully integrate vintage streetcars into their transit service. San Francisco Muni's E Embarcadero and F Market & Wharves lines operate almost entirely with restored vintage cars. Both follow the waterfront from Ferry Building to Fisherman's Wharf, the E line passes AT&T Park. One-ride fares are $2.50 for adults, $1.25 youth and seniors. I exclude cable cars because, with one-ride fares of $7, they mainly target tourists.
New Orleans operates its entire streetcar system with vintage cars, with routes that include Canal Street, the Garden District, the French Quarter, and the waterfront. One-way fares are $1.25 for adults, 40 cents for seniors.